New Mexico United travel to Louisville, Kentucky in search of three points against their biggest challenge all season in Eastern Conference’s Louisville City FC
By Chris Walker | Photo: Alvarado Photo Team
New Mexico United kicks off their final month of regular season play when they face, arguably one of the best teams in the USL Championship right now, Louisville City FC. Before the match results from Saturday, Lou City sat in the lead of the Central Division and was second-seeded overall in the entire Eastern Conference behind Tampa Bay Rowdies.
Lou City has a rich history in the USL Championship. A league history United Technical Director and Head Coach Troy Lesesne highly regards as the standard.
“They are a club that is their own, completely own, identity. Meaning, they are the standard-bearer. They are the standard-bearer in the league since they’ve been in the league. They’ve won two championships, they’ve been to the semi-finals every single year at a minimum. They have the best facilities in the USL, in terms of, stadium and their training ground now. They built an incredible Academy system in a very short amount of time. And I say all that because they’re always there for a reason in relationship to what they produce on the field,” Lesesne said.
Currently, Lou City is 14-7-5 (W-D-L) going unbeaten in their last five matches pulling out two wins and most recently, two of their three draws. As of this morning, Birmingham Legion has a 1-point lead on Lou City, but Lou City also has today’s match in hand. Still, as if fares, United will have played three Division Leaders after today’s match and be able to truly assess where they stand in the tall order of the playoff hunt as they make a push towards postseason consideration.
Lou City is lead by top goal-scorer, Cameron Lancaster (15 goals) and assist-leader, Brian Ownby (8 assists). Also featured, Jimmy McLaughlin, Jonathan Gómez, Niall McCabe, and Chris Hubbard in between the sticks. Lou City averages 1.9 goals a game and concedes 1.1 goals a match.
In speaking to Lesesne on Saturday morning on the pre-match presser, you could sense his respect for Lou City knowing very well the kind of side his club is up against.
“They have talent in a lot of different areas on the field. They are very aggressive with how they defend. They are very aggressive with how they attack. So they’re a phenomenal opponent and we are incredibly excited to be here and compete with them and we look at it as a match, much like whenever we were facing MLS teams in 2019, can really establish New Mexico United in a different way within the USL. So that’s a long way in saying they’re a pretty good club,” Lesesne stated.
United have maintained focus solely on Lou City since their 2-0 victory over Rio Grande Valley last week not wanting to get ahead of themselves with a slew of matches still on the schedule. They are currently on a 3-match win streak and Lesesne is aware of his side’s standing heading into today’s challenge.
“I think when you win three matches in a row you start to gain a lot of confidence. And a great point that was made today by my Assistant Coch Zach (Prince) was ‘To win a championship you have to win four matches in a row.’ So, you know, having that type of mentality going into this game, umm, I think is very important and I’m reluctant to say anything about momentum and that type of stuff, especially when you’re going away from home playing the best team in the USL, but the group feels good. The group is excited about this opportunity and we want to continue to make our push for the playoffs and see if not only can we make it, but obviously we want to try and finish as high as we can to secure a home match if possible.”
United currently sits fourth on the Mountain Division table with 37 points after just 25 matches have been played. Lesesne’s side is averaging 1.1 goals scored and conceded per match. If United can steal a goal first and can’t keep Lou City off the board they will have to be twice effective on their attack.
“I think we need to be good in possession so the more that we can eliminate them from getting into rhythm and getting some of their danger players on the ball then I think that’s going to be a successful recipe for us on the night. So that’s a big focus for us. There’s going to be times where they do have the ball though and we have to defend load block situations and that’s alright I think we’ve done incredibly well throughout the entire year defensively. It’s about what we do in transition with the ball, it’s about what we do whenever we have sustained possession,” Lesesne said.
Midfielder Amando Moreno will be in Louisville with United. After it was announced that Moreno would be leaving for more International duty with La Selecta there was wonder amongst United’s fans if he would able to play today’s match.
United will need Moreno’s effort, along with Chris Wehan, whom had scored 5 goals in 8 matches since being back with New Mexico, and a big performance from the backline to include goalkeeper Alex Tambakis. Perhaps one of the biggest undertones in today’s match is how United will look up against Lou City.
United has several players who are familiar with this Eastern Conference juggernaut. Moreno, Devon Sandoval, Andrew Tinari, David Najem, Austin Yearwood, Harry Swartz (out injured), Alex Tambakis, and Ilija Ilic. If there’s any player to be focused on today, it’s going to be Ilic as he returns to face the team he won two USL Cups against. Will his level of play rise being in a familiar territory?
Today’s match will catalog itself in United history along with the sides Open Cup run defeating a strong Phoenix Rising side, MLS sides Colorado Rapids, and FC Dallas before ultimately losing to Minnesota United FC. It’s hard to see it any other way.
Lastly, Lesesne started his Assistant Coaching career off at Charleston Battery and Charlotte Independence. This will be his first return to the Eastern Conference during his Head Coach stint.
“Ironically, this is where I accepted the job in July of 2018, whenever we were at Louisville so there’s a little nostalgia there for sure man. It’s good to be back on the East Coast but we’re here for one reason and that’s business, it’s not about memories,” Lesesne concluded.
New Mexico United faces Louisville City FC at 1 pm Mountain Time at Lynn Family Stadium.